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CO2 should be re-used, not buried.

If you took any notice of the current Federal Government (but who would?) you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s no such thing as Climate Change and we can go on blissfully digging up coal to burn here and sell overseas, while importing almost all our liquid fuels.

The deservedly maligned 2014-15 Federal Budget made massive cuts to alternative fuels research and nothing has changed in this area since, except more cuts to the CSIRO budget.

Fortunately, other governments aren’t so stupid and are investing heavily in alternative fuels. Australia will eventually piggy-back on their discoveries, but we once had the potential to lead the world in this vital area.

We’ve been led to believe that burying – ‘sequesting’ they call it – the carbon dioxide produced by our highly polluting coal-fired power stations is the only way to comply with our national emissions targets, but that’s rubbish. The technology is unproved and highly expensive, and by the time it became implemented we wouldn’t have met the targets anyway.

The Yanks realised that burying a gas and trying to keep it bottled up forever isn’t a very smart idea and have been very busy looking at what’s more sensible to do with power station and factory CO2.

US scientists took a leaf (poor pun) out of the natural world and reckoned if plants could convert atmospheric CO2 to carbon and oxygen, using photosynthesis, why couldn’t they?

Back in 2012, a team of researchers from the University of California developed a method by which formic acid could be used to convert carbon dioxide into isobutanol, an alcohol-based alternative fuel. The UCLA chemists genetically engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism, Ralstonia eutropha H16, which is able to create alcohol fuels from carbon and electricity. The electricity came from solar panels.

In mid-2014, scientists from Princeton University discovered a way to convert carbon dioxide into formic acid using solar energy. They fed solar power into an electrochemical cell, which was made up of metal plates sandwiching liquid-carrying channels. Although only around 1.8-percent efficient the experiment achieved twice the efficiency of natural photosynthesis.

You can see where this combination of CO2-derived alcohol fuel and CO2-derived formic acid might lead.

By using carbon dioxide to produce formic acid and then reacting the acid with more carbon dioxide the end result is a combustible fuel. When burnt, this fuel produces carbon dioxide and the whole process begins again.

Process equipment that creates formic acid and isobutanol could be plumbed into fossil-fuel-burning powerplants and factories. In theory, the process could eliminate CO2 emissions from powerplants and factories, making them carbon neutral.